Eating chillies from the garden!
Chili plants are slow to get going, so start pepper plants indoors a few weeks earlier than tomatoes and have loads of health benefits. Here are chili pepper seed-starting tips from the National Garden Bureau:
- Sow seeds about 8 to 12 weeks before the last frost date.
- Sow several seeds / inch deep in 2-to 3-inch containers such as peat pots filled with lightly moistened seed-starting mix.
- Water well and place the pots in a well-lighted, warm area (80ºF to 85ºF) such as under fluorescent lights.
- To prevent the seedlings from damping off, keep the soil damp but not wet, and provide good air circulation around the plants.
- Feed the seedlings with half-strength water-soluble nitrogen fertiliser every two weeks. When seedlings are about two inches tall, thin to one plant per pot by cutting out the smaller ones.
- Once the plants are about 5 inches tall and the nighttime temperatures are above 60ºF, harden the plants off by placing them outdoors for longer periods of time each day.
- After two weeks, plant them in the garden. Peppers need full sun, rich soil (amended with compost, well-rotted manure, or leaf mould) and good drainage. Allow 2 feet between plants.
- If the peppers are starting to produce flower buds, pinch them off and continue to do this for one to two weeks weeks; this forces the plants to put their energy into growing leaves and roots. Mulch with 2 to 3 inches of organic mulch to slow weed growth and maintain soil moisture.
- Stake varieties that grow taller than 2 feet.
- Keep the plants lightly moist, but not soggy.
- Pull any weeds if they appear. Feed the plants with an all-purpose water-soluble fertiliser about six weeks after transplanting and again if the plants start to look pale or the leaves are small.
- Most chili peppers start out green, then turn yellow, orange, red, or brown when fully ripe. Harvest when peppers feel firm and get a glossy sheen.
How do you know whether the pepper you want to grow is too hot to handle?
The amount of “heat” in hot peppers is measured using Scoville units, which refers to the parts per million of capsaicin (a chemical unique to peppers that acts as an irritant) in a pepper. The higher the Scoville units, the more fiery the pepper and the more you’ll sweat – talk about health benefits.
Growing conditions such as soil quality, moisture, temperature, and exposure to sunlight affect the hotness of a pepper. Even fruits on the same plant may have different degrees of heat. A habañero will always be hotter than a jalapeño. But a habañero grown in Texas will usually be hotter than one grown in Vermont. That¹s why some of the hottest peppers come from the Southwest.
Pepper Type Scoville Units
- Sweet Bell Pepper 0 – 100
- Pasilla Bajio 100 – 250
- Anaheim 800 – 1,400
- Ancho/Poblano 1,250 – 2,500
- Jalapeño 4,000 – 6,000
- Serrano 10,000 – 25,000
- Cayenne 25,000 – 55,000
- Tabasco 30,000 – 60,000
- Chile Pequin 40,000 – 70,000
- Thai Dragon 75,000 – 150,000
- Habañero 100,000 – 325,000
- Red Savina Habañero 225,000 – 570,000
- Pure Capsaicin 16,000,000
In 1912, a pharmacologist named Wilbur Scoville put together a panel of brave souls who tasted solutions of hot peppers and slightly sweetened water. They diluted until they detected no heat, and rated pepper varieties by the dilution factor. For example, a gallon of habanero extract poured into a vat would take 300,000 gallons of water to dilute it.
Scoville heat units for selected peppers:
0 to 5,000
- Bell, pimiento: 0
- Anaheim: 1,000 to 1,400
- Jalapeno: 2,500 to 5,000
5,000 to 20,000
- Wax: 5,000 to 10,000
- Serrano: 7,000 to 25,000
- Chipotle (smoked jalapeno): 10,000
20,000 to 70,000
- Arbol: 25,000
- Tabasco: 30,000 to 50,000
- Cayenne: 35,000
- Thai: 50,000 to 100,000
- Jamaican Hot: 100,000 to 200,000
- Scotch Bonnet: 100,000 to 250,000
- Habanero: 100,000 to 300,000